A Preposterous Exploitation of School Shootings

A frantic mother (Naomi Watts) races to her son’s school after getting an active shooter alert in The Desperate Hour.

Via: Limelight

A widowed mother races through the deep woods after reading about an active shooter at her son’s school. The Desperate Hour takes every parent’s worst nightmare and turns it into a preposterous film. What begins as a terrifying and intriguing premise quickly devolves into utter absurdity. The single character perspective loses believability as the protagonist inserts herself into the situation via cell phone. Even worse, the film makes no real effort to comment on the plague of gun violence threatening children. The Desperate Hour is an exercise in exploitation that’s borderline offensive.

Naomi Watts stars as Amy Carr, a mother of two children struggling to cope with her husband’s accidental death on its first anniversary. Her teenage son, Noah (Colton Gobbo), has become distant and troubled. Amy implores him to get ready for school as she takes her young daughter (Sierra Maltby) to the bus stop. She then goes for a run in a remote area to collect her thoughts from grief.

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Amy’s attempt at peace and tranquility is constantly interrupted by concerned callers. She sets her phone to silent. Her reminiscing is suddenly interrupted by an emergency alert. A shooter has attacked Noah’s high school. Amy frantically calls 911 for more information. The dispatcher tells her that parents are gathering at a nearby community center. She’s miles away from both. A frantic Amy races through a heavily wooded forest. She uses her phone to get information, talk to anyone who can help, and as a GPS. Her panic and dread skyrocket when she receives a troubling call from the police regarding Noah.

How The Desperate Hour Creates Tension

The Desperate Hour has a lean eighty-four-minute run time. Most of that is spent with Naomi Watts running around on her phone. The film tries to create tension by preying on primal fears. A mother’s first instinct is to protect her child. Amy Carr is alone and far away when her son is in mortal danger. She can’t contact him. But somehow uses her phone to collect information and involve herself directly in the crisis. Every call she makes becomes more ludicrous. The idea that she could play iPhone detective and supersede law enforcement is a bridge too far.

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Naomi Watts is a superb actress. Her performance is not where the fault lies. The Desperate Hour has a plot that is poorly conceived and executed. Director Phillip Noyce (Salt, Patriot Games) and screenwriter Chris Sparling (Greenland) are flawed in their use of an incredibly serious subject matter. School massacres cannot, in good conscience, be a prop and background for a mystery thriller. The filmmakers tread foolishly from the second act.

The Desperate Hour could have worked as a searing character drama. A protagonist lost in the wilderness trying to contact her child is compelling. Having her involved in the tragedy remotely was a bad idea. I sincerely hope that school shooting scenarios do not become accepted as entertainment or callous indifference. The fact that these awful crimes persist in America is a sad and damning indictment of our society.

The Desperate Hour is produced by Untapped, Boies/Schiller Entertainment, and Limelight. It will have a VOD and theatrical release from Vertical Entertainment on February 25th.

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Julian Roman
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Julian Roman has been with Movieweb for nearly twenty years. An avid film buff, he feels lucky to have interviewed and written extensively about Hollywood’s greatest talents. In his spare time he plays guitar, treasures good company, and always seeks new adventures.

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